Members of UK parliament assess ‘conversion therapy’ bill: “It creates thought crimes”

In the House of Lords, the bill is criticised as an attack on freedom of speech, religious freedom and parenting. “It would make illegal expressing some of the profoundest beliefs”.

Evangelical Focus

LONDON · 15 FEBRUARY 2024 · 16:31 CET

Baroness Foster, of the DUP party, speaking at the House of Lords in February 2024 during the debate on the conversion therapy ban bill. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Video capture</a>. ,
Baroness Foster, of the DUP party, speaking at the House of Lords in February 2024 during the debate on the conversion therapy ban bill. / Photo: Video capture.

The House of the Lords of the United Kingdom debated this week the ‘conversion therapy prohibition’ bill, a controversial that the Conservative government led by prime minister Rishi Sunak is hoping to pass in the months ahead.

The debate around this law, which has suffered several U-turns and has not the support of all members of the Conservative party in government, has been criticised by several organisations, including the Evangelical Alliance.

Analysing the text at the House of the Lords (the UK’s upper chamber), several Members alerted about the effects of a law that could clash with fundamental freedoms.


“Free debate and discussion are vital in democracy”

Lord Frost, a Conservative, said the long debate about the issue of protecting LGBT people from abuse has helped everyone “think harder about one’s own perceptions in this complex area”. But nothing had changed in his view that “this is a bad poorly written bill” that “would have damaging consequences”.

Coercive and violent conversion therapies are not happening in the UK as they are already prosecuted by the law, Lord Frost said. Therefore, such a law would only “reinforce a tendency towards control that is already very evident in our society”.

One of the main objections the member of the House of Lords had was that “it gives legislative force to the view that simply hearing opinions that you don’t agree with can in itself cause harm”. In the area of transgenderism, in which “individuals differ, and we are far from a societal expert consensus”.

“Free debate and discussion are vital if we are to find the right solutions”, he continued, and democracy works on the principle “that everyone has the right to form their own judgements and opinions and, equally, every adult has the right to ignore such judgements and opinions and do what they want within the law. Once we question this principle, as this bill tries to do, we are changing the nature of society, then we are asking the state to be our parent, to protect us from uncomfortable concepts and challenging ideas”.

Lord Forst went on to say that law as it had been brought to parliament would be a “step to creating a state ideology of approved and unapproved ideas”. It would “make illegal for religious leaders with their flock, parents with their children, psychologists or psychiatrists with their patients, to express some of their profoundest beliefs”. Furthermore, some of these people could be forced to “actively say things they do not belief in order to avoid prosecution”.

The UK advocacy group Christian Institute edited a video with the speeches of some of the Lords who oppose the bill.


“Badly drafted and dangerous”

Lord Forsyth, also a Conservative, used his turn to speak to express that “in nearly 40 years in parliament” he had “never seen a more badly drafted or dangerous piece of legislation”. He pointed to ‘clause 1 section 2’ of the bill, which does not specify what “conversion therapy” looks like in practice. “Would it include a parent not supporting a children’s decision to dress as a member of the opposite sex? Parents saying to their children they should not take puberty blockers? Would they find themselves on the wrong side of the law? Or trying to prevent medical interventions that would be irreversible?”

The parliamentarian asked: “Are we now going to criminalise people for thinking things?”


Are voluntary and free conversations no longer allowed?

Nor was Baroness Ludford, a Liberal Democrat, convinced. Despite being a very short bill, it raised “difficult questions”, she said. There were no definitions in the bill and “this means that interpretation is to be highly subjective. How can something be banned if it cannot be defined?”

The law would also represent a “serious overreach” creating “in effect a thought or speech crime”. She also wanted to know if police officers had given concrete examples in which they could not act because there was a real gap in the law that needed to be addressed.

Another issue she highlighted was is “what room does the bill allow for sincere and voluntary conversations is unclear”.


Lack of definition of ‘conversion therapy’

Lord Farmer, a Conservative, also defended “faith leaders, parents and friends, who may be approached by someone struggling and do their best to advise them”. He asked for a “responsible legislation”.

The government, he recalled, “has been struggling for years to define conversion therapy in the robust way necessary”. The law should not have negative effects on “family life, belief, and other fundamental rights”.


Parenting at risk under “new orthodoxy”

Baroness Foster (Northern Ireland Unionists) said she was “concerned about the ambiguity and vagueness” of the proposed law being discussed at the House of Lords. She underlined the threats the text had for “freedom of speech, religious freedom and parenting”.

“There is a danger that this bill creates a new orthodoxy and that a whole category of opinions that must not be uttered at the risk of criminal conviction”. She also warned against following the example of the very restrictive law approved in the state of Victoria, in Australia, which she said was a model to follow for LGBT groups in the UK.

“One of the universal tenets of Christianity is the need to repent, which is universal, it applies to us all. Is this now going to be challenged or likely to be illegal?”, Baroness Foster asked to close her intervention.

One more year
At Evangelical Focus, we have a sustainability challenge ahead. We invite you to join those across Europe and beyond who are committed with our mission. Together, we will ensure the continuity of Evangelical Focus and Protestante Digital (Spanish) in 2024.

Learn all about our #OneMoreYearEF campaign here (English).

Published in: Evangelical Focus - europe - Members of UK parliament assess ‘conversion therapy’ bill: “It creates thought crimes”